Its November 1941: You Are In TOTAL Command of Operation Barbarossa-What To Do?

Totally hypothetical-but you have the total confidence of Adolf Hitler. Your commands will be obeyed without question.
As of now, the German Army has stalled-the roads are seas of mud, and the troops are cold and hungry.
Hitler wants a big push to finally knock Russia out of the war (Operation Typhoon); but the other generals want to stop, regroup, and get the troops into winter shelter. Already, you are losing more men (from the cold) than from Russian bullets.
Do you:
(1) Take all your available panzers from Army groups South and North, combine them, and launch an armored push onto Moscow?
(2) Order a fallback on all fronts, and set up defensive positions?
(3) Stop all operations in Army Groups North and Center, and launc a big offensive in the South (capture Baku)?
(4) Advise Hitler to open negotiations with Stalin, for a cease-fire and (eventual) end to the war?
(5) enlist your fellow generals in a plan to overthrow Hitler?
What would you do?

I’d re-decorate the Reichstaag bathrooms in purple and gold.

If the time frame for the OP was August or September, I’d say head straight for Moscow with all available strength, and to just avoid the Battle of Kiev and the subsequent encirclement.

However, in November, I’d probably set up prepared positions and along the best defensive terrain somewhere around the lines of mid-September or so, pull back , and wait it out until the winter was over.

By doing this, I could choose the terrain to fight on during the winter, hopefully build my forces back up somewhat, and be ready to do something in the spring, probably a renewed drive toward Moscow.

I would hope that I would have been smart enough to honor the non-aggression treaty I had with Russia and concentrate my forces on the already active fronts. Russia might be in my sights, but would wait until I had the manpower to do so. Also, I would hope that I would have been smart enough to realize that the Russian winter requires a bit more in supplies and equipment than my army possesses.

Intentionally sabotage the effort. I’d push all forces to invade Siberia, “where teh secrit Russians are.”

I don’t know anything would have worked, but my inclination is to suggest that simplification of war aims is often a good move.

So I’d transfer more strength to Army Group North and take Leningrad, instead of failing to take it and being stuck beseiging it. Once Leningrad’s taken, the army is freed up on that flank, making a drive to Moscow easier.

I would not the Commissar order, suppress the Einsatzgruppen operating in the Ostfront, and begin plotting against Hitler. Secondly undermine Stalin by ordering the locals to be treated well and emphasize the brutality of the Stalinist regime.

November 1940 would give me a ghost of a chance. If given a choice I’d prefer 1936 or so, to be honest.

By November 1941 the die had already been cast, and those inefficient-if not unworkable- elements of National Socialism as practiced by Hitler’s regime had irrevocably determined its final fate. I’d just be idly fiddling with my armies on my maps until Berlin burns.

From my recollections of things like “World at War” and other sources, the Germans had not seen serious resistance in their drive toward Moscow. By November of 1941, Russia was pulling their well trained and equipped Siberian troops back to Moscow since they had intelligence that Japan would not be looking to invade Siberia. Germany was totally unaware that the Siberian troops would be available once the roads froze solid. They figured that once the roads froze, they would simply take their tanks into Moscow. For what they knew at the time, that was probably a reasonable decision. Didn’t work out really well though.

I would drive to Moscow full stop. Now probably the diversion to Kiev has already fatally compromised Barbarossa’s chances of success, but in November the ground finally freezes and the Panzers can (and in fact were) be unleashed, Historically one of the German divisions, the 7th Panzer actually broke through but was beaten back by the Soviet 2nd shock Army, I would reinforce AGS even at the expense of other formations and basically throw everything at the Moscow sector.

Most likely, I would still fail, but to have even a ghost of a chance, the Germans need to take Moscow.

This is the common view, but shows a misunderstanding of history.

People assume that the Germans were just too stupid to understand that winter is cold and hey you need winter gear lol.

But the whole point was that Barbarossa would be over by the time winter came. If you didn’t think it would be during the planning stage, you wouldn’t launch the operation. Planning for winter gear from the start would be admitting up front it’s a bad idea.

France had the world’s most modern, well equipped army, and it fell to Germany in six weeks, through the psychological shock of the rapid advancement of Germany and the untenability of the positions they held. This was the essence of blitzkrieg - the “oh shit, we’re so fucked that we’re just going to surrender rather than turn this into a WW1-style meatgrinder”

Germany was ill-equipped to fight another WW1, and their plans hinged on this shock forcing surrender. It worked in Poland, and in France, and in the low countries, and everywhere else they conquered. Their operational manuevering was so far ahead of everyone else that this was very successful. But if France had decided to dig in and fight to the death, Germany would’ve had the fight dragged out for years, with millions dead on both side.

So we get to Russia. The plan is the same - break so much of their armies in the first weeks of the campaign, capture so much territory, get so quickly into their rear areas that they can’t coordinate defenses or counterattacks, wait until they realize their situation is untenable, and have them surrender. That was the plan. Russia would fall in 2 months.

It was not at all an unreasonable projection. France had a more capable military than Russia did, and they fell in weeks. The Germans really did slice through Russia, capturing hundreds of miles of territory and millions of troops in the opening of the campaign. And it was very close to working. You won’t find this in pop history anywhere, but Stalin had a nervous breakdown. He locked himself in his room for days at a time. He was very close to issuing a surrender order. Russia realized how fucked they seemed to be.

The major difference here is that France had the option of surrender and living under German rule in a relatively peaceful and pleasant way. Life could go on much as it had. This was arguably preferable to having millions of French die in another WW1 total war. But Russia didn’t have that option - Hitler treated the Russians like shit and they knew they would not get favorable peace terms.

And that’s all it took - where France surrendered, and Russia was on the teetering edge… they decided to hold on. But it was a close call. People think that Barbarossa would’ve never worked, that the Germans were stupid for trying it, that it was inevitable that Russia would win, and that’s very much not true. Germany came so close to causing a collapse with psychological shock the same way they’d done before - it’s just that where others had succumbed, Russia, having a worse situation and possibly due to the strength of a totalitarian regime, fought on.

And it cost them dearly. Humankind has never seen anything like what happened in that war. Not even WW1 compares.

So, as I said, looking in a casual way at the past, and assuming that the epic clash between Germany and Russia, with four years of the most terrible war ever conducted would result from the initial German invasion, it looks stupid. As does Germany not equipping their troops for the long haul, or switching their economy to total war only years later. But the whole point is that if Germany hadn’t thought they could defeat Russia in the same way they defeated France, they would’ve never engaged in war in the first place. If you were to assume you needed winter coats for your troops, you don’t go. Germany’s window to win the war was before the winter of 1941, and they came very very close to doing it.

So the answer to this thread is - November 1941 is late in the game to change the outcome, but what’s needed to win the war is pushing that psychological shock just a bit further. You send everything you can to capture Moscow, which would likely break the will of the Soviet leadership.

That’s interesting, because I’ve always wondered what they planned to do if they captured Moscow. If it broke Stalin’s will (which could euphemistically mean ‘killed him’), maybe it would have been worth the effort. But what if it didn’t? What kind of occupation could they maintain? Winter was coming no matter what, and Moscow is one city in a vast nation. Seems like madness to me.

While I’m at it, related is the issue that the pop history understanding is that Germany should’ve finished off Britain before attacking Russia, as it was opening itself to a two front war. This is also simply wrong.

Britain was no threat to Germany in the summer of 1941. They launched some token bombing night raids, and that’s it. The U-boat campaign was wildly successful and would keep Britain focused on its own survival, and far too weak to pose any real military threat to the German force in Europe. It was essentially irrelevant for the expected duration of Barbarossa. Dedicating more resources to subduing Britain would’ve been a waste. The continuation of the Battle of Britain beyond the air defense campaign was already a waste.

The notion of Germany invading Britain first is also absurd. Germany would’ve had no chance whatsoever to invade the home islands. Their amphibious assault and sea lift capabilities were a joe. Even if they were able to establish air superiority over the channel, they simply did not have the sealift to land any significant forces. The plans for Sealion as is called for diverting river barges from the Rhine to try to make it out to the channel just to have some sort of lift capacity. It was a joke. And causing a surrender through airpower clearly wasn’t working, so anything Germany did towards Britain here is wasteful, and irrelevant - as I said, Britain was no threat to interfere with German plans.

So Germany had the right idea - subdue Russia by summer 1942, continue the wildly successful u-boat campaigns, and Britain probably agrees to some sort of conditions at that point.

Additionally, the Soviet Union had just undergone one of Stalin’s crazy episodes, a purging of almost the entire officer corps. And they were beginning to modernize and better supply some of their army. 1941 was the time to strike for Germany - time was on the side of the Russians at that point.

The biggest factor in all of this is actually the Italians bumbling their way through everything they did. Germany had to bail Italy out in their invasion of Greece, which set the plans for Barbarossa back several weeks. If Italy displays any sort of competance, or Germany just lets them get mired down in their own failure, Barbarossa starts earlier and likely succeeds.

The Soviets already had plans to evacuate Moscow and run the government from a location out east - I forget where exactly. In one of the most amazing feats of history, they actually relocated a ton of their industrial base a few hundred miles east - just packed up the factories and hauled it out there - to be able to continue the fight despite the loss of their most productive territories.

In many cases they simply dumped machinery onto some open ground on the mid-Russian plains and highlands. Workers - often not given adequate rations or clothing - would simply go out into sub-freezing temperatures all day long and produce weapons and munitions on minimal equipment out in the middle of the fucking Russian winter while their fingers fell off from frostbite. Their resolve was incredible.

But… as I said, the initial success of the invasion was overwhelming. Russia was already on the teetering edge. The capture of Moscow would’ve most likely been that final push over the edge.

Even if it wasn’t, Moscow was still a vital communications and logistical link. Losing it would’ve been crippling. All major railways in the entirety of western Russia ran through Moscow. The centralized totalitarian government ran things from Moscow - all communications and supplies ran through there. It was a vital hub in the whole country. Even outside of the psychological shock of losing the city, it had significant military value. Things would’ve been quite different with Moscow in German hands.

This is one area where Hitler’s fiddling hurt him. The original plan called for Army Group Center to go balls out for Moscow, but Hitler redesigned the plan so that part of AGC broke off after capturing Smolensk and assisted with the storming of Leningrad. This was a stupid alteration to a plan that was essentially a psychological shock campaign. The original plan probably takes Moscow, even with the delay in launching the operation.

I should’ve rephrased this. The plan was to subdue Russia by autumn 1941, with maybe some cleanup through the rest of the year. But they could look at what to do with Britain by summer of 1942 - Britain would be in pretty dire straights by this point. Give them a deal in which they mostly keep autonomy in exchange for limiting their military, and they’d probably listen to the deal by then.

But by that point America is involved.

And irrelevant. It’s not as if they’re going to take back the continent with a conquered east. At that point they get used to the new world order.

The only relevance that holds here is if Germany decides Britain has to surrender unconditionally and starts building up an invasion force. But given Hitler’s disposition towards Britain, more likely they strike some sort of armistice that limits Britain’s military and they coexist.

At that point the war aim becomes containment of the Nazi machine, not its rollback.

Thanks for this information and analysis, I’ve read or heard/seen discussed some of these elements disparately but you really pulled it together in a way that makes it kind of scary how close the Nazis came to succeeding.

They’ll still need their winter clothes for garrison duty/mopping up operations.

In the narrow context of what Hitler and his minions believed in terms of their capabilities and that of the Russians, then their decision to attack was absolutely the right choice. Of course in reality the German logistics chain wasn’t up to the task, the Germans had no idea about the existence of the T-34 or KV I, and Russia was just too damned huge to conquer in 6 months.